“Princes and rulers don’t amount to much.
Like seeds barely rooted, just sprouted,
They shrivel when God blows on them.
Like flecks of chaff, they’re gone with the wind.”Isaiah 40:23-24 MSG
A few weeks ago, my family decided to pull all of the grass out of the small patch of lawn next to our front sidewalk. The plan is to extend the landscape bed of already established ground cover. We also planted a river birch (my favorite tree—do you have a favorite tree? You should have a favorite tree) and two willow-y shrubs where the grass used to be.
It is the beginning of my sylvan landscape project, inspired by John Gidding.
But, before I had the chance to start transplanting ivy, fiddlehead ferns, periwinkle, and other starters from other shaded areas of our lawn, I watched The Need to GROW. Before I fill in my landscape, I thought, maybe I’ll try a fall crop of lettuce and spinach. So, even though we’re at the tail end of the growing season, I bought some seeds from the hardware store, raked up the soil a bit, and planted the seeds.
Nothing is happening.
Well, not nothing. There are some fresh blades of grass returning to the landscape. There are a few other seedlings sprouting, seedlings that do not look anything like spinach or lettuce. I suspect that the dozens of squirrels and birds in my neck of the woods have been helping themselves to my hastily planted garden patch. I hope they are enjoying the organic seeds I sowed.
I also think I didn’t do enough to give the seeds a chance. The ground beneath the grass was tough, packed down and more of a clay texture, and when I raked, I only raked a little bit, and when I sowed the seeds, I only covered them with a light coating of soil, and when I watered them, the hose may have just as quickly washed my labors away.
It’s nothing, really—this weekend, I’ll probably take an hour or so, dig up those transplants I mentioned earlier and replace all of my wishful thinking with plants I know have a greater chance of surviving underneath the shade of the red maple, dogwood, and Japanese maple that grow there now, plants I expect to manage just fine over the next decades as the river birch matures.
This is how it is with God.
I am a whiff of a breath, seed on the wind, a plant stuck into a plot of land that will quickly sprout up and soon enough fade. The trees I plant are likely to outlast me and the rulers and princes, too. God has watched it all, nurtured it all, cared for it all, and built into the whole system the cycle of death and resurrection. We are each just one seed sown into the sweeping span of the universe.
I both simultaneously matter so much and matter not at all.
“Why would you ever complain, O Jacob,
or, whine, Israel, saying,
‘God has lost track of me.
He doesn’t care what happens to me’?
Don’t you know anything? Haven’t you been listening?
God doesn’t come and go. God lasts.”Isaiah 40:27-28 MSG
All of this—all of us—will pass away. But God lasts.
What a humbling, freeing reality!
I am given this gift of life, to sprout, to grow, to prune, to be shaped, and ultimately to wither and die for the sake of love, for the sake of relationship, for the sake of providing life to others, necessary for this moment but only for this moment. What I do matters a lot and matters not at all.
It is a marvelous, frivolous, glorious existence that lasts the length of one heartbeat across all of eternity, and all of it is held together by the God of love.
Points of Reflection
- Is the reality of your mortality—the brief stretch of breath you have here—freeing or paralyzing?
- As the deciduous trees in the Northern Hemisphere do their annual laying down of their leaves, what lofty ideas about yourself need to pass away?
For the Kids
- What does the passage in Scripture today tell you about God?
- What does the story tell you about people?
A friend of mine recently went on a local cemetery tour and learned the stories of some of the notable citizens of our town. He noted that it had been only a couple of generations since they died, but even the stories of these people who were considered important to our city have already been forgotten by most of the general public. Take a walk in a local cemetery (Halloween, the Day of the Dead, and All Saints Day are right around the corner!). Ask God to speak to you through the names and dates on the tombstones. What does it mean to face mortality? How does that reality shape your perspective about your life? What meaning and purpose does God have for your existence?
It’s a spooky time of year. What better way to mark the occasion and contemplate your own mortality than reading classic horror? If you have not read Mary Shelley’s original tale of Frankenstein, it is a literary wonder. There are plenty of Hollywood renditions of Frankenstein’s monster in the world, but all pale in comparison to this gothic novel’s exploration of human suffering.